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STORY OF THE PLAY
There is a good deal of fairy tale in Mr. Israel Zangwill's play Merely Mary Ann, and a distinct family resemblance in some respects, although differing materially in others, to the familiar story of Cinderella, for Mary Ann, a drudge, a lodging house maid of all work, developed into a full blown heiress in the last act.
Mrs. Leadbatter kept a lodging house in the South of London, and her abode sheltered a nice variety of Bohemian types. One of these was an individual of permanent interest named Lancelot. He was a musical composer, clever, but ahead of his time, and sadly neglected at the period of the start of the play. His music was the "music of the future," wherefore his talents were not properly appreciated until the last act. He had a friend, named Peter, whose means enabled him to live in better circumstances and surroundings than those which Mrs. Leadbatter's abode afforded. He, too, was a composer, but while Lancelot endeavoured to have a conscience with reference to his art, which he rated very highly, Peter, who cared little for art, apart from financial gain, composed songs of the commonest and most popular kind, and achieved moderate wealth thereby. Then there was the German music publisher Herr Bramhson, and he being essentially a business man, preferred the popular songs by Peter to the doleful ditties of Lancelot.
At Mrs. Leadbatter's establishment there was a very charming little maid of all work, a nice country girl, innocent, fresh, true-hearted, who sympathised so much with Lancelot, that after a time she won that young man's attention. She was in absolute ignorance as to his artistic aims, but she saw in him a cause for womanly sympathy. And she duly sympathised. There came a time when Lancelot, weary of the struggle against evil fortune, and the density of the British public with regard to his music, made up his mind to retire into the country, and take Mary Ann along with him. But second thoughts were best, and scruples more or less conscientious, prevented the composer from executing his project.
And then a strange thing happened. Mary Ann's brother in America, who had been of no use to himself or anyone else in this country, but had done exceedingly well on the other side of the Atlantic, had died a millionaire, leaving all his money to his sister.
Came there then a break of six years. Merely Mary Ann had become Marian, a lady with a fine country house, unlimited wealth and numerous friends. Her primitive nature remained as of yore, quite unspoilt, and she had rejected the offers of several more or less eligible young then desirous of sharing her fortune with her. Fate and the author willed it that she should meet Lancelot again. Her old love had become a famous composer, and apart from the joy of meeting there was a natural shyness on either side, but the difficulty was smoothed over, and Marian divesting herself of her fashionable attire, returned once more in cap and apron to win her fairy prince Lancelot, and as will be readily imagined, she had very little difficulty in accomplishing her purpose. And all ended happily.
Perhaps the story of 'Merely Mary Ann' will not strike the more or less worldly reader as precisely the sort of thing which would have occurred in real life. For it is difficult to imagine the heroine in her greatly altered circumstances, being constant and true for six long years to one who was, after all, but a passing episode in her young life, and whose acquaintance had been made in the troublous days which the everyday, ordinary woman would doubtless have tried hard to forget.
But Mary Ann was no ordinary woman, and if she had been, would perhaps not have been worth Mr. Zangwill's trouble to write about. And moreover, one doesn't expect, nor indeed desire, people in books or in plays to behave exactly according to the more or less generally accepted rules of everyday life.
Indeed, as I have before remarked, if people in plays only behaved as persons in the world of to-day do, uncommonly few plays would ever reach their second acts, while many of them would never be begin at all. Which thing may be regrettable, but is certainly true.
PEOPLE IN THE PLAY
Miss ELEANOR ROBSON, who became such an immediate favourite with London audiences by her playing of the title part in Merely Mary Ann, is a lady with a decided record, for, from being a player of very minor parts in a San Francisco Stock Company, to the Star in an accepted London success, is a long journey; so long indeed, that few actresses make it at all, and those who do often spend half their lives on the way. Miss Robson therefore, has every reason to be proud of the fact that she has covered the distance in something under seven years, and that she has done it too, by reason of her own ability, with none of the favour or assistance of powerful and influential friends.
Just about seven years ago, one of the girls who finished her course at a convent school in New York was the daughter of an English actress who, several years before, had gone to America to try her fortunes on the stage of the far West. The mother was Mrs. Madge Carr Cook, who has recently played with much success in New York in Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, and the daughter was Miss Robson.
To tell of the actress's career from that time to the present, would be merely to record a series of steadily progressive engagements, which would not perhaps be specially interesting to English readers. It will suffice to say that Miss Robson's record has been one of thorough success. While she was in this country in the summer of 1901, Miss Robson met Mr. Zangwill, and he made her a present of a little paperbound copy of Merely Mary Ann, a story he had just published. Miss Robson read it, liked it, and thought she saw in it the material for a play exactly suited to her, and she suggested the idea of writing it to the author. At first Mr. Zangwill did not care for the plan, but as everyone knows, he ultimately fell in with Miss Robson's wishes, with the result which many of us have seen, at the Duke of York's Theatre.
There are probably few actresses of greater all-round experience on the stage at the present time than Miss SUSIE VAUGHAN, for she has played almost every sort of part, at almost every sort of theatre, and in several countries. She made her start in the theatrical profession when she was only fifteen years old at the music halls, and later on, with considerable difficulty, procured an engagement for one week in the front row of the Covent Garden ballet, in the opera of Il Trovatore. She was glad to discard this line however, and to migrate to the Surrey Theatre, which was then under the management of the late Mr. William Holland. After a time, she was allotted leading business with Mr. James Fernandez and Mr. William Creswick. This was a great opening for the clever young lady, and she certainly obtained very valuable experience, for during her stay at the Surrey, she played almost everything in the legitimate and sensational drama, and during the winter seasons played both boy and girl parts in the pantomime.
When the late Miss Nellie Harris took the Novelty Theatre in Greta Queen Street, Miss Vaughan was a member of her company, and appeared in Nita's First, and after various tours in the country she again returned to town, and played Kitty Clive in Masks and Faces, when her sister, the late Miss Kate Vaughan, opened at the Opera Comique, which as most of my readers will recollect used to be in the Strand, almost opposite the Strand Theatre. To tell of the various engagements which she has played between then and her present one at the Duke of York's Theatre would take up more space than I have at my command, but it will suffice to say that Miss Vaughan, who was married to Mr. Price in 1890 has had little time for resting.
MR. GERALD DU MAURIER is, as most people are aware, a son of the eminent Punch artist, who, it will be recollected, created a particularly beautiful type of English woman in the pages of that paper, just as Mr. Dana Gibson is doing to-day in the American journals. During his stage career, Mr. du Maurier's lines have been cast in singularly pleasant places, and he has had the good fortune to be associated with many lengthy runs, notably in that of Trilby, his father's play, produced by Mr. Beerbohm Tree, in which it will be recollected Miss Dorothea Baird made her first appearance in a prominent part in town. Mr. du Maurier also appeared with great success in perhaps the most striking play of recent times, The Admirable Crichton, produced at the Duke of York's Theatre, and it was during that engagement that he entered upon another, and more serious one, marrying Miss Muriel Beaumont who was playing in the company at the time.
MR. HENRY AINLEY has not been on the stage for very long, but during the time he has adorned it he has managed to impress it with his individuality to a very considerable extent. Gifted with a romantic manner and appearance, and a more than ordinary share of good looks, Mr. Ainley is well suited in the part of the composer Lancelot, as he has been in the other parts he has recently been called upon to play.
MR. HUBERT WILLIS, who has been on the stage a good deal longer than his looks would indicate, served a long apprenticeship in the country, playing all manner of parts. He was for many years under the management of Mr. Edward Terry, and played with that gentleman a great deal both in London and in the country. Mr. Willis is a character actor of remarkable versatility, with a positive genius for make-up.
MR. E. DAGNALL, who succeeded to the part of Herr Brahmson the music publisher, originally played by Mr. Charles Cartwright, is in his way, one of the best strong character comedians on the London stage to-day, and in addition to being a thoroughly sound actor, he is one full to his fingertips of everything connected with the stage, and a very admirable stage-manager as well, and producer of plays.
SCENES FROM THE PLAY